CapitalismEducationO.O.P.S.Theory & Practice

O.O.P.S. vs M.O.O.C.s: Midterm Report, Part 2

The O.O.P.S. courses Rethinking Capitalism and Feminism, Capitalism and Social Transformation share a critical understanding: capitalism, as we are experiencing it, is undesirable and not the only political economy possible. They also both analyze how major social problems are directly linked to the present order of capitalism, from sexism, to racism, to climate change, and much more. While my Social Condition course shares a critical approach with these two courses, it is with a significant difference. The critical focus has not been specifically on capitalism, even as my students and I have been examining existential and political conditions of social continuity and transformation that are clearly connected to the present state of the political economy. …

O.O.P.S.Theory & Practice

Arendt’s Plurology

The sociologist reading Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition is bound to squint at the page in puzzlement when Arendt gives her definition of society. So would, I think, most readers of the text. Arendt’s fondness for assigning new meanings to commonly used words is most perfectly demonstrated in that moment when she nonchalantly declares that “society” is a distinctly modern phenomenon: the intrusion of the private sphere into the public, resulting in a massive emptying of the value of human association.

Arts & DesignEssaysMedia/Publics

9/11 and the Visual Culture of Disaster

I remember the week after September 11, 2001, when the subway from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan was back in limited service, getting off at Broadway-Lafayette and feeling somewhat disoriented when my usual landmark indicating south, the World Trade Center, was missing from the downtown skyline. The specter of the World Trade Center was soon enough evoked by Art Speigelman in his September 24, 2001, New Yorker magazine cover of the Twin Towers as black silhouettes against a black background. The Twin Towers haunted the New York skyline again a few months later in the Tribute in Light installation of 88 search lights configured in the buildings’ original footprints and projected upward into the night…

EssaysTheory & Practice

Simmel and the Social Condition

Georg Simmel (1858 – 1918) had a very precise and original conception of the subject matter of sociology: the forms, but not the contents, of human interaction. Sociology as a distinct discipline of human inquiry, he maintained, is directly comparable to geometry. As geometry, by studying the forms of “physicochemical” contents “determines what the spatiality of things in space really is,” sociology studies the forms of human interaction of all sorts, what he called “sociation.” The study of sociation, Simmel maintained, is the specific subject matter of sociology, the way to understand what society really is.

Following this path he studied a diverse range of formal subjects: domination, conflict, exchange and “sociability” (sociation as an end in itself, as in a cocktail party) built around considerations of the spacing and timing of social relations. Yet his most extraordinary work combined this formal sociology with the study of the forms and contents of culture: …

Arts & DesignEssays

Writing on the Wall: Letters from New York to Berlin

Street art, urban art, urban interventionism

One day I decide to walk down from Penn Station, where I get off the train, to my office at Union Square, determined to soak in all the text that I can see on the streets. The distance I need to cover is about twenty blocks, and I quickly realize that I will not be able to keep up the standard New York walking pace if I am serious about doing this; there is just way too much text to take notice of. First, I have to cut through Koreatown on 32nd street, a particularly dense section of the city that is bewildering when it comes to the pervasiveness of written signs. I start to heavily filter out the onslaught of textual information, as the majority of the signs are printed in a Korean calligraphy that I find aesthetically intriguing but impossible to understand. I focus instead on the many bilingual signs that give away the mishmash of activities taking place in the area…